Festuscato knew it was swim or die. He knew no way to get back aboard the ship as the waves would not let him. Still, he tried until a great swell lifted the ship from its place and swirled it away. In the dark and rain, Festuscato might have never found his way, but he spied something white that moved not far from him. With a tremendous effort, he leapt through the waves and grabbed hold of the horse’s mane. The horse acted in such panic, it might have been heading further to sea, but Festuscato did not care, and he imagined if anything other than Luckless’ nose could find land, it would be the horse.
He got kicked, and kicked again, but he held on for a good long time until with one great buck, his fingers finally gave up their strength and grip and he slipped back into the waves. He kept on, then, in the horse’s wake and tried desperately to time his breathing so he took in air and as little salt water as possible.
Aboard the ship, another half hour passed, though they were very low in the water and clearly sinking. Every board creaked and groaned by the battering and the pressure of the sea. It sounded horrifying enough, but then that other sound returned, that sickening, scraping sound against the bottom, and the little ship ran aground.
Bran let go of the tiller.
“Everyman for himself! Abandon ship!” Hrugen shouted, and the tiller snapped at the rudder point, and he and Gregor went over the side.
Not long after that, a man dragged himself up on a sandy beach. The rain had slackened. The worst of the storm was over. He panted and heaved water when a strong pair of hands grabbed him and beat him on the back. He threw up, and fainted as the strong hands lifted him from the shore.
Festuscato came around enough to recognize a man’s voice. He called for Inga, whatever that was. Then he got brought into a cabin; a warm, dry cabin where the fire burned brightly in the night. The man, that is, the old man put him in his daughter’s lap by the fire. She stroked his forehead, tenderly, and he struggled to wake up. He cracked his eyes open and saw a buxom young blond girl mothering him. He could not speak.
“Sanka vurden marsda, Inga. Kerdurmen hans gurt.” The man said, or at least that was what it sounded like in Festuscato’s ears. No doubt the water. The old man had Festuscato’s shirt off in a minute, Inga assisting. Then his boots and pants were put by the fire. Last, his underthings were removed and he got helped naked into a warm bed and under several blankets. “Gustevirden wyrd Inga. Degaben.” The old man said something like that and went out into what had become a gentle rain.
Festuscato looked more closely at his savior. She looked about eighteen, quite blond and buxom indeed, and not at all bad when she smiled.
“Geslemen da toot,” she said and showed her soaking wet dress where he had sat, dripping all over her. Naturally she took it off, and everything else besides. Then she followed the time-honored tradition of Norse women who find a half-drowned, half-frozen sailor on the beach. In fact, she saved his life several times that night.
The sunlight began to crack on the horizon when Gregor climbed the rock and found Bran and Seamus trying to dry out the books. “Here they are.” Gregor shouted behind. “And they’ve found a couple of the horses.” Hrugen said nothing, but looked slightly red as he pushed past the old, one eyed Saxon. Mousden fluttered ahead and greeted his shipmates with tales to tell.
When Gregor arrived, he interrupted. “Enough pixie exaggerations,” he said. “Let me tell you what really happened. Pixie can do us all a favor by finding some wood and getting a fire going.”
“Sure,” Mousden said with a touch of sarcasm. “It’s my story, but you just want me for firewood. No good it will do without Mirowen. Wood’s all wet. I ought to fire your butt one day. Probably blow us all up, you old fart.”
“Shark!” Gregor gasped and pointed. Mousden moved so fast, for all practical purposes, he vanished. Gregor barely had time for a good laugh.
“And what’s with our Danish friend?” Seamus changed the subject and noted Hrugen looked ready to cry or spit.
“Not so fast.” Gregor laughed again. “It started when I reached the shore. I was so worn from swimming, I thought I would die on the ground. But then I heard the cry of distress and so I made these creaking old muscles move. I looked and nearly cried out myself. I thought the wind, rain and sea water had made me blind. Seems the swim shifted my patch from my bad eye to my good one.” He paused for a long laugh at himself. “But then I looked again and I saw Hrugen, still well out in the waves, struggling like he was going down for the last time. I would have rushed to him, but you know, I can’t see distance well with one eye. I could not say how far away he was in the dark and rain. Then I saw a sight to wonder. Strike me if old Mousden had not grabbed our sailor by the shoulders and held him up. They struggled a little. I think poor Hrugen might have been a bit heavy for the little one, but he flapped his wings mightily for about three lengths of a man, and then he dropped him.
“Ahh!” Hrugen screamed as if he would drown for sure, and he began to slap the water like a man who does not know how to swim.
“What ya screaming for?” Mousden asked. “It’s shallow here. You can walk.”
“Oh,” Hrugen said when the words penetrated his mind. He put his feet down and walked to shore.” Gregor had to stop for a long, hearty laugh and a slap on Hrugen’s back. It must have been a sight.
Saved. Festuscato and his crew are saved, maybe, as they are taken to the king of the Jutes. Until then, Happy Reading